Although considered unsightly to some, varicose veins are rarely a cause for concern and don’t usually require medical treatment
Varicose veins are swollen veins that typically occur on the legs or feet and are knotted and bulging in appearance. They happen when the elasticity in vein walls becomes weak and stretched, causing the venous valves (a flap-like structure within the veins) to lose strength. The valves work by keeping the blood flowing in one direction; if they fail or become weak, blood may flow backwards and collect in the veins, making them swell and bulge. This then results in varicose veins.
Causes & symptoms
Why some people get varicose veins isn’t fully understood, but experts have found that a number of factors increase the chances of susceptibility. For one, women are more likely than men to develop them. This may be, in part, because the hormone progesterone, usually present during pregnancy, relaxes the artery walls. Other risks include obesity, old age and standing for long periods of time. Genes may also be a contributing factor; the health service suggests that individuals are more likely to develop varicose veins if a close relative also has them.
Typically, varicose veins do not present with any problems and if they don’t cause discomfort or pain, then a visit to the doctor isn’t necessary. In some cases, however, varicose veins may induce worrying symptoms including aching, muscle cramps, dry and itchy skin over the affected vein and a burning sensation. In these instances, the NHS recommends patients seek medical advice where further tests can be carried out to assess any underlying medical problems and ascertain whether treatment is needed.
Treatment of varicose veins is only recommended if complications arise, such as painful symptoms and leg ulcers or extra swelling. The most common treatments for varicose veins include:
Endothermal ablation. Heat is used to seal the affected veins.
Sclerotherapy. A chemical foam is inserted into the affected vein to close it off.
Ligation and stripping. The affected vein is surgically removed while the patient is sedated under general anaesthetic.
While it is not possible to completely eradicate the risk of developing varicose veins, there are some measures individuals can take to reduce the chances:
- Try to walk around or move every 30 minutes to avoid standing or sitting still for too long.
- Exercise regularly.
- Raise legs when resting to ease discomfort and pressure.
Removal of varicose veins for cosmetic reasons is not typically available on the NHS. Patients can choose to pay for private treatment, but this route tends to be quite expensive, costing anything between hundreds to thousands of pounds.
This article was originally published in Live to 100 with Dr Hilary Jones. Read the digitial edition, here.